The insurance company Youi, headquartered in South Africa and prominent in Australia, has been awarded the annual Roger Award for the “worst transnational corporation operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand” in 2016.
At an awards ceremony in Onehunga last night, the judges’ report was unveiled declaring the company “despicable” in its business dealings with the public in New Zealand.
The runner-up was IAG/State Insurance — the company that won last year – and third was the “taxi alternative” company Uber.
The three other finalists were Bathurst Resources, Coca Cola and Westpac.
In the Accomplice Award category, there was “insufficient support for either nominee” — Talley’s, and the government for pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) more strongly than any of the other 11 countries [which] signed up to it” — to become a winner.
Murray Horton, coordinator of the Christchurch-based Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), organisers of the Roger Award, said this was the third-year running that the prize had been awarded to a transational in the so-called “FIRE” sector – finance, insurance and real estate.
Chief judge Sue Bradford, a former Green Party MP and now an activist with Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP), said the decision on the winner had been difficult “with the two insurance companies in a head-to-head battle for the award”.
“However, new entrant Youi made it to the top with its gratuitous abuse of legal niceties, customers and potential customers and its own workers,” she said.
Bradford also congratulated Horton for “keeping this tradition of the Roger Award alive and well”.
“We need the light it shines on corporate malfeasance more than ever in these dangerous times.”
Youi was a finalist because it “uniquely, does not do business online”, said the nominator.
“Very deliberately, they insist on everything being done over the phone. Once engaged in conversation, their call centre staff insist on being given the caller’s credit card details on purely spurious grounds.
“Once the company has those details, it starts taking money off the card or out of the caller’s bank account. Despite the caller not being a Youi customer or having taken out a Youi policy (this is the most egregious aspect of this corporate crime).
“The caller may simply have rung up for a quote for car insurance, decided not to join Youi and stuck with his or her existing insurance company.
“But Youi, having got his or her credit card details, proceeds to start taking money out.
Guilty on representative charges
“Youi has pleaded guilty to 15 representative charges filed by the Commerce Commission (and was fined $320,000). Plus it has been fined $100,000 (the maximum possible) by the Insurance Council of NZ, of which it is a member (and has been allowed to remain so).”
The full judges’ report said “not one of the managers and executives responsible has been prosecuted, the company continues to operate in New Zealand under its Reserve Bank licence.
“Youi remains a full member of the New Zealand Insurance Council, Hansard records no mention of the scandal in Parliament, television continues to carry the company’s deceptive advertising, and the chief executive officer on whose watch it all happened has been promoted.”
Investigative journalist Diana Clement, who exposed the activities of the company, was quoted in the report as saying Youi was “one of the most despicable and shameful companies I have ever come across”.
The judges also said: “Youi and Uber are very similar. They don’t care about breaking the law. They just carry on abusing legal niceties and workers because they have so much money poured into them.
“They are part of the new face of global capitalism taken to state-of-the-art levels of local illegality.”
The criteria for judging are by assessing the transnational (a corporation which is 25 percent or more foreign-owned) that has the most negative impact in each or all of the following categories: people – unemployment, impact on tangata whenua, impact on women, impact on children, abuse of workers/conditions, health and safety of workers and the public; environment – environmental damage, abuse of animals; political interference – interference in democratic processes, running an ideological crusade; and economic dominance – monopoly, profiteering, tax dodging, cultural imperialism.
The other four judges were David Small, a lawyer and associate dean in Education at the University of Canterbury; Dean Parker, Auckland writer and former Writers’ Guild delegate to the Council of Trade Unions; Deborah Russell, feminist, social and political commentator and tax expert, Tertiary Education Union member, and candidate for the Labour Party in 2014; and Teresa O’Connor, co-editor of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, the national nursing magazine; a celebrant; and a founding member of Voice Nelson, a social justice activist group in Nelson, primarily concerned with housing, employment and health.
The Roger Award For The Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in New Zealand is an annual media campaign run since 1997 by two activist organisations, Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa and Foreign Control Watchdog. The winners are chosen by a group of academics, activists, businesspeople and trade unionists. The award is named after a former Finance Minister, Sir Roger Douglas, who introduced far reaching market-oriented reforms in the 1980s.